Story: Not Our Problem
Motif = N381.0.1
Bibliographic Information (best version for telling):
MacDonald, M. R., & Anasazi, Z. (1992). Peace tales : world folktales to talk about. Hamden, Conn.: Linnet Books.
Burma/Thailand and an Armenian variant
Intimacy with collegiality
Balcony conversation with honey spill
Escalation of chain events
Civil war and chaos
Scene with desolation and realization
A King and his Adviser sat on a windowsill overlooking an urban street and having an engaging conversation while eating puffed rice and honey. The King, not paying attention to what he was doing, let drop some honey onto the windowsill. The first minister offered to wipe it up. The King suggested that it was not their problem and that servants could wipe it up later. A chain of events began. A fly ate the honey. A gecko ate the fly. A dog and cat fight developed. Different people sided with the cat owner versus the dog owner. Eventually, soldiers became involved but fought among themselves. Eventually, there was killing and civil war. The palace was detroyed by fire. Standing with his Adviser and surveying the ruins of the palace and widespread destruction in the kingdom, the King admitted that wiping up the drop of honey was their problem.
"It's not our problem" -- This phrase summarizes the core issue for this story--indifference. The line needs to be delivered with increasing levels of indifference and even anger and then the delivery needs to transform to take account of the King's change of heart at the end of the story.
Audience (why is this story appropriate for the audience? developmental characteristics?):
Young adults find that they need to adapt to a world over which they have some control in some ways and have very little control in other ways. Indifference is a reasonable attitude for them to take in response to problems which appear to them insignificant or outside of their control. This story underscores the idea that taking on responsibility and acting in a socially responsible way can make a big difference in the real world, even if the issue at hand seems small. A small issue in a far away land can have a large impact on the future.
As they adapt to their peer group, they may find that they are concerned about some situation but are dissuaded from taking action by peer pressure. In this story, the Adviser would have intervened much sooner but for the indifference of the King. Had the Adviser been more outspoken, he might have helped avoid the disasterous outcome.
The fact that the King came to the realization that the drop of honey did matter could help make the point that he, even though seemingly very powerful in his world, was not powerful enough to overcome the chain of events his indifference set in motion. He and many others suffered due to his indifference.
Bibliographic information on other versions/variants (at least two)?
Htin, A., Trager, H. G., & Paw Oo, T. (1968). A kingdom lost for a drop of honey, and other Burmese folktales. New York,: Parents' Magazine Press.
Kudian, M. (1969). Three apples fell from heaven: a collection of Armenian folk and fairy tales. London,: Hart-Davis.
Brief comparison of all versions/variants in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," "flavor," content, etc. Stress the differences in style rather than those of content.
I compared one version and one variant to the story I read in Margaret Read MacDonald's Peace tales : world folktales to talk about.
The second version of this tale (which originated in Thailand and Burma) I encountered portrayed the King as more haughty and the Adviser as less of an advocate for intervention. This second version carried the stylistic twist that the King was not so much indifferent as distracted but he also felt that the Adviser wiping up the honey would have been beneath his dignity. Regarding rhythm, this version reminded me of a thunderstorm arriving and passing quickly with a peaceful sunset at the end, when a princess learned in the law pronounced the conclusion that there is no such thing as a small incident. In comparison, the version I plan to tell has a much slower rhythm, in part, because in it the King makes the conscious decision that the chain events are not their problem, thus slowing down the action as he is forced to repeat that it is not their problem.
I also encountered a variant in a collection of Armenian folk tales. This variant, of course, preserves a similar chain of events but rather than focusing on indifference by people who could have avoided the difficulties by intervening, it focuses on each and every actor (animal or human) overreacting and thereby contributing to disaster. There was no opportunity to intervene by doing something so concrete as cleaning up a drop of honey. Rather, a moderation of response was needed. The rhythm of this story was like an oncoming train, getting louder and making the ground shake more and more as it relentlessly approached. I believe this version would be difficult to tell because, in the end, no one seems to recall what caused the destruction.